Returning Rohingya refugees is like sending Holocaust survivors to gas chambers, says Myanmar rights activist
Bangladesh needs to form a broader international alliance to resolve the issue of roughly 1 million Rohingya refugees in the country, a rights activist and political dissident from Myanmar has said.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency on Global Genocide Day, Maung Zarni said four regional powers plus Israel either support or protect Myanmar’s genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority group in the western Rakhine state.
“No genocide is ever committed by a single nation state. Whenever genocide is committed there has always been coalition of friends that either supports the criminal regime or that protects the regime,” he said.
Russia, China, India, Japan and Israel have both economic and military interests in Myanmar, according to Zarni, and this lends silent support to Myanmar at the international forums.
The genocide in Myanmar is committed “with the collaboration, complicity and support of” these states, he added, suggesting that a “counter alliance” against these states is crucial to resolve issues such as their safe repatriation.
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children and women, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community.
To solve the Rohingya issue “there has to be some form of intervention. I don’t mean the military intervention. There are different types of intervention,” he added.
He suggested the Bangladesh government to mobilize the international community by organizing a wider international conference in Dhaka to determine the future of the Rohingya.
Zarni went on to say that Dhaka should form an “alternative alliance” along with Latin and North American states, EU, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and other countries that oppose the Rohingya genocide at the UN Human Rights Council.
Repatriation is no longer a solution
Zarni, who is a member of the board of advisors of Genocide Watch and a non-resident fellow at Genocide Documentation Center in Sleuk Rith Institute, Cambodia, suggested that talking to Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to resolve the Rohingya crisis “is utterly useless”.
“Suu Kyi is either unwilling or siding with the military or not accepting even the UN’s voting that this is a crime that her army is committing.
“Relaxing a few rules is not going to solve [the issue] in a place where Rohingya are no longer accepted as part of Burma [former name of Myanmar].”
Underlining that Bangladesh is carrying a huge burden by accepting the refugees, Zarni noted that it was not Dhaka’s duty to feed them.
“For Bangladesh to be able to keep one million Rohingya on its soil, ……the international community has to meet the humanitarian obligation by providing Bangladesh with 100 percent money to feed them, medical supply, technology, education, all kind of things.”
Bangladesh feels two-pronged pressure from the international community which expects the country to host the refugees with its limited resources.
Only 40 percent needs of the refugees in Bangladesh are met, said Zarni, who has lived in exile for more than 30 years.
He likened Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar to sending Holocaust survivors back to gas chambers at Auschwitz. “It is a suicide. [Because] the perpetrators are still in power.”
“You would be stupid to think that your old perpetrators are going to protect your children… You cannot trust a rapist, and go and live in the same house with the rapist. The killers are still around. You cannot go back.”
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a Rohingya repatriation agreement last year that suggested that the repatriation has to be voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable. But the process had been postponed several times due to protests by the refugees.
“Because they just saw what happened to their mothers and fathers and children. A lot of them survived the rape. And they saw their own children killed while they are being raped. So, you cannot tell these people to go back. If they don’t want to go back and if Bangladesh forces them to go back then Bangladesh would become a bad guy. Because that is against the international humanitarian law. I think that Bangladesh is aware of it.”
Citing recent reports of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar by boats, Zarni stated that persecution of Rohingya is still going on in Myanmar.
Trying to give a glimpse of their life in Myanmar, he said: “Rohingya villages are not villages anymore. They are designated as security grids by military and a villager has to pass four security check points to go to the next village.”
“Women don’t have access to prenatal care. Rohingya are not allowed to move from one village to the other, to go to a clinic. The doctor-patient ratio is 1 to 186,000 for Rohingya while the national average is 1,000 or 2,000 patients per doctor.”
“It is like a massive prison with a higher concentration of guards,” he added comparing the Rohingya area in Myanmar to Gaza in Palestine.
Zarni also spoke against Dhaka’s plan to resettle 100,000 Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char, a recently emerged island in the Bay of Bengal.
“People start to express serious concern because they [the shelters] look more like a prison camp. The video documents coming, they are not normal village. And also, the island is two hours by [motor] boat from the nearest shore.
He stressed that Rohingya want to go back to Myanmar and live a peaceful and dignified life.
“Give them their lands and forests and rivers back. They know how to live. Poorly, but they don’t need to rely on anybody. They never relied on anybody,” he added.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled “Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.”
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.
The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings — including of infants and young children — brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.